Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Spend first, ask questions later

Here is an interesting fact about library usage:

According to page 3 of this document, only 69,280 individual library patrons had checked something out of the library in the six months prior to September 30, 2007. Also, there are were 290,766 customer accounts at the library (cardholders?) which I believe is more people than actually live in Howard County. I think we have around 270,000 residents currently.

Current library statistics tell us that there are currently about 245,206 library cardholders (not sure what caused 45,000 people to close their library accounts between 2007 to 2008). If that figure of approx. 70,000 unique users over a six month period held for 2008, this means that less than a third of library cardholders actually checked out at least one item from the library in a six month period.

These dismal usage figures have not stopped Ken Ulman from spending money on libraries.

One of the most expensive items on the list is $14.4 million for the new Miller Branch Library and Historical Center in Ellicott City. The library, which is already in the site plan and design phase, is the only library construction project on the list.

“That’s a project that’s much needed for the county, especially in the Ellicott City area,” said Ulman, who went to middle and high school near the library. “It was crowded when I grew up here. It hasn’t gotten any less crowded.”

I would be willing to bet that a detailed analysis of library usage would show that a small number of people use the heck out of the library to check out movies, TV shows on DVD, and children's books.

Before he spends millions on more libraries during a severe recession, perhaps it would behoove Ulman to study exactly how libraries are being used by the public. Right now, I don't think that anyone is asking the right questions about library usage.


Anonymous said...

Libraries are more than books, though books have been their main attraction.

Libraries provide a free meeting space, internet access, programs for the community.

Eludius said...

But if he doesn't open a new library, then he won't get credit for opening a new library.

And you don't have to be a county resident to have an account. I live in Carroll County and have an account in Baltimore County.

Anonymous said...

the document you quote from is a superb scope of work - you are lucky to have such a system working on your behalf

Freemarket said...

Anon- if meeting space, internet access and programs are valuable, why are people not willing to pay for them with their own money? Why should tax dollars fund those activities?

Anonymous said...

indeed, and if fire protection is a valuable service, people should pay for that out of their own pockets too... and roads, why should I pay for roads that go places I don't go to?

jim adams said...

Anon, I will pay for the roads you use, and you pay for my roads, and if everyone does the same we can go almost every where we want.

If you pay for the meeting room, I will pay for the internet access, and we can trade favors, if you need the internet and I need the meeting room.

What a great idea, I am soooooo smart.

But I don't think anyone will go for it.

Freemarket said...

Anon 12:50- If there was a way to charge people per mile that they traveled on roads, and exclude those who did not pay, such a system would be superior to the system of publicly funded roads that we have now. Unfortunately, our level of technology is not quite there for this arrangement (yet). Whenever private toll roads are possible, they make much more sense than publicly funded roads.

The services of the library, on the other hand, are rival and excludable unlike roads. The library can easily charge for book rental, meeting room rental, internet access, etc. Just because they offer these services for “free” does not mean that we do not pay for them. Ken Ulman’s proposed capital budget has nearly $100 million dollars going to build new libraries over the next 5 years. Libraries are costing us plenty, and no one has a good handle on how these libraries are being used.

PZGURU said...

ANON - you are overlooking the fact that there already are a number of EXISTING libraries which can provide the services that you so highly desire. There's no need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on more libraries. It's spending money just for the sake of spending money.

It's not the government's job to provide all kinds of services to people for free - which is a misnomer since government money only comes from one source, taxpaying citizens.